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Agent Orange: Chemical Warfare in Vietnam, 1961-1971. Gregory T.

Smith December 2011 NIU / 680 Environmental History ____________________________________________________________________________________ At Tan Son Nhut Airport near Saigon during the Vietnam War, a poster in the briefing room for United States Air Force pilots of the 309th Air Commando Squadron read Only you can prevent a forest.1 The 309th flew modified C-123 aircraft that sprayed a chemical cocktail of chlorinated phenoxy acids over rice paddies and the jungle canopy in what the U.S. military code-named Operation Ranch Hand (originally, Operation Hades). This cavalier attitude and sardonic use of the U.S. Forest Services iconic symbol promoting its forest conservation program displayed an overriding wartime predilection for a new concept of military eco-tactics at the expense of environmentalism.2 The solution to the ageold military problem of having to fight the enemy on his own terrain seemed to be the elimination of the terrain itself as an obstacle.3 Introduction Vietnam was the first war to employ the overt use of chemicals against a battlefields physical environment for strategic purposes. The concept of altering the environment to defeat an enemy was not new and there are many instances of environmental destruction perpetrated throughout history to achieve military objectives. The wholesale destruction of the North American buffalo herds in the nineteenth century, for example, altered the ecology of the Great Plains, denied Native Americans their commissary and effectively ended the Indian Wars. Shermans devastating scorched earth march to the sea ravaged the Georgian countryside, demoralized Confederate forces and ended the American Civil War. Operation Ranch hand was designed to achieve similar environmentally destructive goals in pursuit of victory and consisted of three distinct ecological missions: one, destroy crops in rural areas and deny the enemy a food source; two, destroy the jungle canopy and deny the enemy a concealed sanctuary; three, force urbanization and compliance with South Vietnam President Diems Strategic Hamlet initiative.4 President Kennedy believed that the guerrilla nature of the Viet Cong insurgency that was primarily fought in rural areas required a counter-insurgency strategy. This represented a radical departure from the

James G. Lewis, James G. Lewis on Smokey Bear in Vietnam, Environmental History, Vol. 11, No. 3 (July, 2006), pp. 598-603. Lewis includes a photo of the modified version of the U.S. Forest Services original 1947 poster that was posted at Ranch Hand operations headquarters in Vietnam and training facilities at U.S. military bases. All photos of the posters at such installations, however, appear to have been effectively scrubbed from the Internet. References to the use of the modified slogan are largely absent from scholarly works but its ubiquitous use in Vietnam Agent Orange literature and oral histories related by Vietnam veterans has led most historians to accept its display at military installations as factual. Some remembered it as a motto posted over the doorway to the pilots ready room. In 2006, Lewis interviewed MAJ Ralph Dresser, the Ranch Hand Commander from 1965 to 1966, who said that the modified Smokey poster hung in his Vietnam briefing room next to another that read Fuck Communism. For Ranch Hand pilots, the mission was clear: destroy Vietnams forests. 2 Ecologys eco prefix has been applied in many different formats. The term ecocide, for example, is used in the title of two of the books in this bibliographic essay. Barry Weisbergs Ecocide in Indochina was written in 1970 and some attribute the term to him. David Zierlers The Invention of Ecocide was written in 2011 but he attributes first use of the term to Yale scientists Arthur Galston et al. in 1966 whose jus in bello argument saw ecocide as a war crime. Not to be out done, I offer my own neologisms: military eco-tactics which refers to the specific eco-strategy of using herbicides to defeat the Viet Cong in Americas eco-war in Southeast Asia. 3 Barry Weisberg, Ecocide in Indochina: The Ecology of War (San Francisco: Canfield Press, 1970), v. 4 Philip E. Catton, Counter-Insurgency and Nation Building: The Strategic Hamlet Programme in South Vietnam, 1961-1963 The International History Review Vol. 21, No. 4 (December 1999): 920. This article describes Diems motivations for establishing the Strategic Hamlet program including the redistribution of farms and the opening of new lands for cultivation closer to protected population centers.

previous policies of the Eisenhower administration that were based on the concept of overwhelming force using nuclear weapons.5 Replacing the older desiccant (drying) compounds, the newer Agent Orange technology was based on the concept of chemically accelerating the growth of plants. Since accelerated, uncontrolled growth is essentially a definition of cancer, such an artificially induced modification of nature would suggest a potential environmental problem and that is exactly what happened. The first to experiment with this concept was Charles Darwin at the end of the nineteenth century. The actual chemical formulation of Agent Orange (AO) took place at the University of Chicago a scant 15 years before its first use in Vietnam was authorized by President Kennedy shortly after his election in 1961.6 It was discovered while researching chemical applications for use in American agriculture after World War II. At that time, herbicides were being used on farms and had dramatically increased worldwide agricultural yields. It was not, therefore, initially conceived as part of a nefarious effort to create a chemical weapon to be used in war but, rather, was an outgrowth of the so-called Green Revolution championed by Rachel Carson in her seminal 1962 book, Silent Spring, on the dangers of DDT. After the United States began using chemically enhanced herbicides in Vietnam as part of the war effort, many legal questions were raised. Was the application of herbicides an act of chemical warfare? Although the use of defoliants in Vietnam is often cited as a violation of the Geneva Convention protocols, a specific reference to protecting the environment during wartime was not added until 1977.7 During the war, the North Vietnamese government and their Western antiwar sympathizers tried to argue that the American use of herbicides violated the 1929 Geneva rules of engagement that prohibited the use of chemicals against people. The counter-argument by the U.S. government stated that all Ranch Hand targets were plants. Injury to people, including American soldiers, was considered collateral damage. The concepts described above in this introduction suggest a wide, international scope to the subject of Agent Orange. The relatively recent historical time frame of the Vietnam War and the extensive documentation pertaining to it - much of which has been recently declassified have attracted an army of researchers attempting to analyze what many historians have come to view as the defining event (the Vietnam War) for the United States occurring in the middle of the American Century. The purpose of this paper, however, is not to specifically research these events but to examine the historiography of this relatively new field. The historical argument that has evolved since the initial environmentalist books written during the war to the present day has been reasonably consistent throughout the period: the United States used an untested chemical variant of an agricultural herbicide as part of a new counterinsurgency strategy designed for a war it reluctantly fought in a physical and cultural environment where it had no previous experience against an enemy motivated by a nationalist sense of anti-colonialism. This

Scot MacDonald, Rolling the Dice: Historical Analogies and Decisions to Use Military Force in Regional Contingencies (Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 2000), 211. The author argues that politicians typically favor limited, proportional force whereas professional military officers, such as Eisenhower, favor the use of massive, overwhelming force in military interventions. Kennedy opted for the former and termed it a counterinsurgency strategy based on herbicides and an elite corps of military advisors called the Green Berets. 6 National Security Action Memorandum Number 115: Defoliant Operations in Viet-Nam, November 30, 1961. Declassified. Public domain. See NSAM 115 at JFK Library online at http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Z8-vBiaBdEW2Cz9g6NUB7g.aspx. 7 The North Vietnam Army - in violation of the 1973 Paris Peace Accords invaded and defeated South Vietnam in 1975. In 1977, article 55 of the Geneva Convention protocols was amended to include the following language: Care shall be taken in warfare to protect the natural environment against widespread, long-term and severe damage. This protection includes a prohibition of the use of methods or means of warfare which are intended or may be expected to cause such damage to the natural environment and thereby to prejudice the health or survival of the population. ICRC, Customary IHL Database, http://www.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/citation (Accessed 10 December 2011).

topic is of particular interest to me because I was directly involved as a combat soldier in Vietnam at the time.8 This essay examines secondary sources for historical perspective on the use of defoliants in Vietnam during the period of 1961 to 1971. I have tried to include an eclectic group of authors that are representative of the various key actors involved in the use of herbicides during the war. These include academic historians, military historians, Vietnamese civilians, 1960s social activists and former U.S. soldiers and pilots. In addition to environmental themes, there are political, social, military and scientific themes. In spite of the growing recognition of the relevance of this topic, the volume of scholarly historical literature remains somewhat scant. This paper will attempt to evaluate the changing perceptions and attitudes about the use of herbicides in Vietnam over time and evaluate its status as a growing historical field. There are many unanswered questions. What was the ecological role of Agent Orange in Kennedys counter-insurgency strategy? Did the United States violate international environmental law? What did Dow Chemical, Monsanto and other manufacturers know about the toxic and carcinogenic characteristics of their product? When did they know it? What is their liability? Did the U.S. government know it was poisoning civilians and poisoning its own soldiers? Did Operation Ranch Hand succeed or fail? What are the implications for future wars? What is the relationship between ecological issues and international relations? This paper will look at how historians have attempted to answer these questions. Some threads are common to most of the readings and include: the consistent disregard for a growing body of evidence that documented the noxious properties of the sprayed agents that affected the physical environment of the land and contaminated the bodies of the people who were in it; the flagrant insensitivity and irresponsible conduct of the U.S. government in the years after the war regarding the health of its own army; and the liability of the manufacturers for the environmental and human destruction it perpetrated. Methodologically, the authors were selected because of their diverse contributions to the subject and will be examined chronologically from 1970 to the present. Before proceeding, the historical and technical nature of the subject requires a brief background sketch and definitions of terms some technical - that commonly appear throughout the readings. Vietnam represented one of the last vestiges of European colonialism and the Cold War forced the United States to reluctantly support the French occupation of Indochina after World War II. Ho Chi Minhs nationalist Viet Minh won a surprising victory against the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 when Eisenhower refused the French request for air support. The French withdrew but the country remained divided and became the unlikely focus of a West vs. East, capitalism vs. communism Cold War showdown that escalated beyond all original intentions. In 1961, Vietnams population centers were primarily along the extensive coastline. Much of the interior remained in a bucolic, natural state except for the rice paddies and plantations built for growing rubber and coffee. In many areas the jungle canopy was so think that artillery gunners had to change the fuze setting on their projectiles from pointdetonating to delay to enable penetration of the canopy to the jungle floor before exploding. Agent Orange was the name used for a blend of herbicides used in Vietnam by the U.S. military from 1961 to 1971. Other agents (white, blue, purple, etc.) were also used to destroy rice and other food crops but Agent Orange, a defoliant, was the most common. It was also the cheapest to produce and the most deadly for both the environment and the people who were unfortunate enough to be exposed to it.

I am a United States Army Vietnam War veteran and served as a fire direction officer in an artillery battalion attached to the 3 rd Marine Division in the northern I Corps tactical zone. I spent a year (1966-1967) just south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which was among the most heavily sprayed areas in Vietnam. In 2007, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, one of the U.S. governments presumptive diseases attributed to exposure to Agent Orange. I am rated as a disabled veteran by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The name was derived from the four inch wide orange stripe on the 55 gallon drums used to store the chemical. Approximately 20 million gallons of the rainbow herbicides were sprayed over large areas of the Vietnamese countryside during Operation Ranch Hand primarily using the 309 th and 12th Air Commando Squadrons modified C-123 planes.9 Approximately 65 percent of the spraying involved Agent Orange. The two active ingredients in the Agent Orange herbicide combination were equal amounts of 2,4dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T), which contained traces of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). Dioxin TCDD was an unwanted byproduct of the manufacturing process. Dioxins are pollutants that are created and released into the environment through various commercial processes that apply heat to derivatives of chloride. TCDD is the most toxic dioxin known and has been classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a human carcinogen.10 Readings: Secondary Sources Ecocide in Indochina: The Ecology of War was written and edited by Barry Weisberg in 1970. Weisberg was one of the first to use the term ecocide in reference to chemical defoliants used in Vietnam. He has a law degree and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago and describes himself on his website as an activist, lecturer, teacher and scholar. Although Weisberg, born in 1943, would have been at a prime draft age during the Vietnam War, he offers no explanation for his having avoided service. He was actively involved in Harold Washingtons 1983 campaign for mayor of Chicago and Jesse Jacksons 1984 campaign for president of the United States. His background is indicative of a decidedly Leftist political approach which is evident in this book. Weisberg takes a very critical stance regarding U.S. actions in Vietnam. Unable to distinguish friend from foe, he says the U.S. decided to merely eliminate everyone. He likens the destruction of the life support system of Indochina to Americas strategy of chemical contamination of the worlds air, water and land. Weisberg is a product of the 1960s protest movements. He argues that until modern times (post-World War II) the life cycle of regeneration of the last billion years was such that no species was able at will to effect the destruction of other forms of life. Mans relationship to nature, he says, is no longer determined by nature. In addition to atomic weapons, chemical weapons have enabled man to take another step along the terminal path of aborting the multi-billion years of the natural evolutionary process.11 This concept is beyond the theoretical stage because the destructive power of the atomic bomb, carbon emissions and chemicals like dioxin can all be measured. Weisberg states that the purpose of the book is to push the reader toward the realization that humans can now effect permanent change in the environment. True to his 1970s activist agenda, he ties the entire fate of the world to the cessation of the American destruction of the environment in Vietnam.

The aerial spraying was done at low speed and at low altitude (100 to 150 feet) usually in the early morning in linear back-and-forth forth formations not unlike the pattern one might use to mow a lawn. 10 For more information, see United States Department of Veterans Affairs at http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/basics.asp. (accessed 10 December 2011). 11 Weisberg, Ecocide, vi.

The author defines ecocide as the premeditated assault of a nation and its resources against the individuals, culture and biological fabric of another country and its environs. 12 To accomplish this, Weisberg saw a fundamental shift in American military priorities with President Kennedy. He argues that ecocide could not have occurred under Eisenhower who believed in massive retaliation (- the effect of an atomic bomb on the ecosystem notwithstanding). Kennedy believed in a counter-insurgency policy and the weapons of counter-insurgency, according to Weisberg, were defoliation, napalm, incendiary bombs and Kennedys new special forces: the Green Berets. Weisberg saw the war in Indochina as a metaphor for a war against all life. Weisberg continues his narrative by pointing out that the wars effect on the environment was not limited to chemical herbicides that were earth sterilizing compounds that caused women to give birth to monsters.13 Animal life was affected as well. Undoubtedly, he would agree with Christina Schwenkels reference to the remnants of Agent Orange as imperial debris.14 Elephants were shot on sight because they were used for transportation.15 The tiger population soared with the abundant supply of fresh human meat.16 Agricultural production declined sharply to the point at which the Vietnamese were no longer able to feed themselves. In 1964, South Vietnam exported 48,563 million metric ton of rice but a year later had to import 240,000 million metric tons. 17 Weisberg also addressed the common ecological theme of man and nature existing symbiotically in an ordered environment. The defoliation, that rendered the land unsuitable for agriculture and resulted in what was effectively forced urbanization, destroyed the equilibrium and social patterns that had existed for thousands of years. Through the use of these chemical poisons, the Americans believe they can starve the population from the free areas, and force them to live in an area which is temporarily occupied by them. 18 Weisberg repeats his argument that the U.S. is fighting a tactical war using chemical alteration of the ecology to achieve military objectives. He includes an article written by Yale and Harvard scientists that concluded with the following opinion. In Vietnam, we can detect the beginnings of a new military tactic in limited warfare. No longer is scientific technology used only to kill the enemy; chemicals are also employed to destroy the ecology that supports him. This environmental warfare has been conducted without any broad explanation of the question whether any cause can legally or morally justify the deliberate destruction of the environment of one nation by another. The United States must begin to grasp the concept that belligerents in hostilities share a responsibility for preserving the potential productivity of the area of conflict. Otherwise, our technology may convert even the most fertile area to a desert, with lasting consequences to all mankind.19 There is a sense of detached trivialization of the U.S. effort in the above quote; the word war is never even used. Rather than an ideological battle that may determine the fate of freedom and democracy in the world, the author treats them as merely two belligerents engaged
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Weisberg, Ecocide, 4. Weisberg, Ecocide, 19-20. 14 Christina Schwenkel, The American War in Contemporary Vietnam: Transnational Remembrance and Representation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009), 184. 15 As a young artillery lieutenant assigned to the 3rd Marine Division in the DMZ region, I can attest to having used direct fire of artillery on elephants in mountain passes because they were used a prime movers to haul North Vietnamese artillery into hidden firing positions in the elevated areas that were inaccessible by trucks or track vehicles. 16 Weisberg, Ecocide, 20. 17 Weisberg, Ecocide, 24. 18 Weisberg, Ecocide, 77. This refers to a document issued by the South Vietnamese Committee for the Revealing of the U.S. Imperialists War Crimes in South Vietnam. February 1970, pp. 6-8. The fact that South Vietnam has a committee so-named is indicative of the status of U.S. relations with its ally during 1970. 19 Weisberg, Ecocide, 94. This passage was from an article by Robert E. Cook, a graduate student in ecology at Yale, William Haseltine, a graduate student in biophysics at Harvard, and Arthur W. Galston, a professor of biology at Yale, titled What Have We Done to Vietnam published in the January 10, 1970 edition of the New Republic.

in a hostility - as though giving a warning to two school boys fighting during recess that they should not destroy the schoolyard because it will be needed for recess by another class that afternoon. Weisberg does raise many valid points. His argument, that man now has the ability to alter or even defeat the evolutionary process, warrants serious concern and demands responsible controls over the political management of that power by combatants in Vietnam or any future war. Many of his conclusions, however, employ hyperbole and misrepresent the facts. For example, his reference to spraying that was done in the free areas to force the rural population into the U.S. occupied areas seems to betray a political bias. Weisbergs presentation is clearly driven by his anti-war agenda more than environmentalism. Nonetheless, Ecocide in Indochina is a valuable contribution to the environmental history of that region because it was one of the first books to frame the Vietnam War in ecological terms and did so in 1970 while the conflict was still active. Operation Ranch Hand: The Air Force and Herbicides in Southeast Asia 1961-1971 was written by William A. Buckingham, Jr. in 1982. This book presents a different perspective because it was written with nine years of hindsight after the American Army left in 1973 and it was published by the Office of Air Force History. Buckinghams history of Agent Orange focuses specifically on the Operation Ranch Hand military mission and as an Air Force Major at the time, he benefitted from access to classified documents. Buckingham traced the development of the U.S. military herbicide capability from the recommendations of an entomologist who suggested the use of airplanes on an infestation of sphinx caterpillars in a grove of catalpa trees in Ohio in 1921. Encouraged by that success, aerial dusting was used to control leaf worms on cotton plants in Louisiana the next year. Buckingham, described these applications as an extension of existing agricultural practices. In the process, he even indirectly raises the question of whether the positives offset the negatives regarding the use of chemicals in agriculture and, by extension, in wartime. He cites conditions in the Pacific during World War II where Allied forces experienced high rates of infection from diseases spread by mosquitoes. When it became obvious that more men were dying from malaria than from enemy bullets, the insecticide DDT with the new spray capabilities of the airplane were used to solve the problem.20 Buckinghams description presents a more logical transition to Ranch Hand operations than Weisbergs rendition. Crop dusting had become a regular feature of American agriculture. Initial applications in Vietnam were highly selective and, consistent with the micro-managed nature of the war, targets were picked in Washington in many cases by the president, himself. Buckinghams analysis is purely factual and not driven by ideology which is consistent with military training and is in contrast to the political tone in Weisbergs book. Buckingham argues that, from a cost/benefit perspective, the relatively inexpensive herbicide spraying cleared land and aided security operations more efficiently in terms of lives and dollar costs than the use of ground troops to achieve the same objectives. Support for expanded Ranch Hand spraying also came from the South Vietnamese government. President Diems controversial brother Ngo Dinh Nhu had observed that spraying not only defoliated but it depopulated the rural areas. He applauded and encouraged more spraying for the propaganda value of its power message to the local citizenry and also because it drove people from the countryside to the cities thereby leaving the Viet Cong with no food source or supply bases.21 The Vietnamese people,

William A. Buckingham, Operation Ranch Hand: The Air Force and Herbicides in Southeast Asia 1961-1971 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1982), 4. 21 Buckingham, Ranch Hand, 59.

however, may have associated Agent Orange with the distrusted President Diem and his brother Nhu who were both Catholics in a country that was almost ninety percent Buddhist. Nhus wife, the flamboyant Madame Nhu, referring to self-immolation by a Buddhist monk on a Saigon street as a barbeque, probably also contributed to the Kennedy-authorized 1963 coup dtat and murder of her brother and brother-in-law. Hence, Weisbergs ecocide may have also directly contributed to a head-of-state homicide. McGeorge Bundy, one of the intellectual elites in Kennedys inner circle and a strong supporter of the war including the later escalation under Johnson, insisted that denial of food was a wholly normal procedure in wars against insurgents and referred to the use of herbicides as a weapons system.22 Ambassador Nolting and General Harkins took a similar view. Buckingham stressed that the Ranch Hand tactical option of spraying herbicides offered an immediate solution to tactical objectives while escalation of troop levels and deployment decisions often required much more time. By 1970, however, there were growing questions about the toxic properties of Agent Orange. Consequently, Congress, in a law signed by President Nixon, mandated a study of the effects of herbicides used in Vietnam. The 1974 study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS-1974) failed to find any clear evidence of direct damage to human health from herbicides.23 This position contributed to the delay in eventually recognizing the debilitating effects and carcinogenic nature of Agent Orange. In truth, the NAS-1974 effort was feeble at best. Research in a war zone proved to be very difficult. The defoliated areas were too insecure for ground observation and sample collection. Most of the committees conclusions about the ecological effects were based on inconclusive aerial photographs. In the late 1960s, the United Nations had expressed concern about chemical contamination of the environment and also decided to get involved. In 1968, the General Assembly adopted a resolution to convene a U.N. Conference on Human Environment to be held in 1972.24 It is not clear why it took the U.N. four years to convene a committee. Ranch Hand flew its last mission in January, 1971. The military was now faced with the problem of what to do with the extensive supply of chemical agents remaining in the country. Buckingham reports that Admiral McCain proposed in June of 1971 that the herbicides and spray systems stored in South Vietnam be used to spray opium poppies which were the source of heroin that contributed to the drug abuse problem in both Vietnam and in the United States.25 The Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed but could not get approval from the State Department for political reasons. Buckinghams report provides detail accounts of the decision process that determined the use of herbicides. For example, when the Defense Department learned in early April 1970 that the various agencies of government were going to announce a joint resolution to suspend the use of Agent Orange, they considered switching to Agent White. White, however, was more expensive and more persistent in the soil. The contribution of Buckinghams Operation Ranch Hand to the historiography is one based primarily on the reporting and interpretation of military documents. It has particular value in this case because 95 percent of the entire chemical mission was conducted under the control of Operation Ranch Hand and, rather than fragmented, much of the primary source data involving flights, targets, types and amounts of herbicides sprayed and observed conditions was centrally located in the Ranch Hand files and

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Buckingham, Ranch Hand, 85. Buckingham, Ranch Hand, 189. 24 Buckingham, Ranch Hand, 159. 25 Buckingham, Ranch Hand, 175.

the Herbicide Reporting System (HERBS) database.26 Buckinghams narrative is detailed, chronological and quantitative. Waiting for an Army to Die: The Tragedy of Agent Orange was written by Fred A. Wilcox in 1983. Wilcox, a professor at Ithaca College, added another perspective to the field of Environmentalism the effect on individuals resulting from the use of chemicals in warfare. In many environmental studies humans are treated as detached actors with an agency that enables them to affect their surroundings. During the Vietnam War, those actors were all in Washington, DC. Ivy League educated and hand-picked by John Kennedy, New York Times journalist David Halberstam called them the Best and the Brightest in his 1972 book. After a dull eight years of Dwight Eisenhower where, except for one state visit by Diem, Vietnam was ignored, Kennedy took office in 1961. This elite group of advisors - probably distracted by the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the 1962 Cuban missile crises - advised Kennedy to send troops to Vietnam and spray a herbicide called Agent Blue on the Vietnam countryside to eliminate the jungles as a sanctuary and rice paddies as a food source for the communist Viet Cong and to force urbanization and rural migration to the Souths coastal cities where the population could be controlled. Wilcox presents anecdotal evidence of the tragedy that ensued by examining case studies of individuals who suffered from exposure to the sprayed chemicals. Unlike Buckingham and Weisberg, Wilcox tells a story at a personal level from the bottom up. Weisberg might argue that its impossible to change the environment for better or for worse without coincidentally changing the people in it. In Vietnam, everything changed. Wilcox starts with Paul Reutershan, a helicopter crew chief who flew daily through clouds of herbicides sprayed from C-123 planes flying slowly at 100 feet above the jungle canopy while escorted by fighter jets. Chemical warfare against the Vietnam environment also killed Reutershan it just took a little longer. In the spring of 1978, he appeared on the Today show and famously announced I died in Vietnam, but I didnt even know it.27 His poignant story is told by Wilcox. Six months, later at age 28, Reutershan was dead of multiple cancers. After repeated denials, the VA sent him a disability check three weeks before he died but he was too weak to even sign it. Two days after he passed away his mother received another letter from the VA asking that the check be returned. With Rachel Carsons Silent Spring in his bibliography, Wilcox makes a similar appeal against herbicides and the chemical companies that manufacture them. His stated purpose is to rally veterans in a fight against an environmental assault that damaged their bodies. Wilcox is given credit for igniting the successful prosecution of the Vietnam veterans class action suit of 1984. Wilcox draws the reader into the contaminated environment through the stories of Agent Orange victims. He takes the reader on a flight with Ranch Hand pilots and, several years later, describes walking with them into the VA hospital where a quote from President Lincoln was displayed: We shall take care of the widows and children of those who served. But theyre not, he says. They have forgotten us and are just waiting for all of us to die.28 After everyone is dead, Wilcox argues, there will be nothing to admit and no one to pay. Eleven million gallons of Agent Orange was sprayed in Vietnam. Wilcox makes


Jean Stellman, et al., The Extent and Patterns of Usage of Agent Orange and Other Herbicides in Vietnam, Nature Vol. 422 (17 April 2003): 681-687. The other five percent was sprayed from boats, trucks and backpacks to clear riverbanks and perimeters areas around military installations. The overall herbicide mission was conducted under Operation Trail Dust which included the Ranch Hand operation. 27 Fred A. Wilcox, Waiting for an Army to Die: The Tragedy of Agent Orange (New York: Vintage Books, Random House, 1983), ix. 28 Wilcox, Waiting, 15.

his arguments through his subjects. Didnt Dows scientists stop and think: thats three hundred and sixty-eight pound of dioxin a substance that kills laboratory animals in parts per billion!29 Twenty-eight years after Waiting for an Army to Die Wilcox authored a follow-up book that he titled Scorched Earth: Legacies of Chemical Warfare in Vietnam. In it he wrote The war in Vietnam was not the first time that a nation resorted to a scorched earth strategy against an enemy in war; however, it was the first time in human history that, in the process of trying to defeat an adversary, a government inadvertently poisoned its own army, then waited for this army to die.30 Army Specialist Charles Kelley spent a year on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) during the peak spraying years of 1967 and 1968 and published Vietnams Rain Agents in 2005. He is 100 percent disabled but in his book he describes the many frustrating years of dealing with an uncaring and unresponsive VA in his effort to get any kind of disability rating at all. We can survive the enemy. We cannot and have not survived the collaborative and tyrannical actions by our own government. 31 The indifference displayed by the U.S. government only served to compound the tragedy. The frustration and anger in the case histories documented by Wilcox screams out at the reader from the pages of his book. The shocking realization that its ecological offensive in Vietnam had probably poisoned millions of people including its own army with deadly carcinogenic and teratogenic chemicals seemed to have traumatized the government into a state of denial. The financial liability was potentially staggering. Soldiers who returned home with no fanfare and dropped off at 3:00 a.m. on the deserted streets of their home town were actually experiencing the national apathy and callous alienation that was to later manifest itself in the duplicitous and total lack of empathy for its warriors when the wars legacy of chemical diseases began to attack their bodies. It was a commodification of soldiers a concept that fit perfectly in the throw-away culture that America was becoming.32 The author quotes one veteran who probably represents the attitude of most: When I went to Vietnam, I took my chances. I was a soldier and I knew what to expect. There was always a possibility that I would be killed or wounded, but I didnt think my children would ever be a casualty of the war.33 Wilcox, who titled one of his chapters A Maimed Generation, harbors some of the same feelings of resentment: Vietnam veterans are dying at a rapid rate, and most of them will not live to see should this ever happen the chemical companies concede that they manufactured and sold Agent Orange to the military, fully aware that this defoliant was contaminated with TCDD-dioxin and fully cognizant of a process by which the dioxin levels in herbicides might have been greatly reduced. 34 Wilcoxs contribution to the historiography is his focus on the human suffering that resulted from the Armys use of chemicals to alter the Vietnam ecology. His book also enhanced public awareness of the plight of chemically injured Vietnam veterans and, undoubtedly, contributed to the 1984 settlement with the chemical companies and later research that eventually led to a list of presumptive AO-derived diseases. Herbicidal Warfare: The Ranch Hand Project in Vietnam by Paul Frederick Cecil was written in 1986. Cecil was a Ranch Hand pilot with the 12th Air Commando Squadron and

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Wilcox, Waiting, 29. Fred A. Wilcox, Scorched Earth: Legacies of Chemical Warfare in Vietnam (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011), x. 31 Charles Kelley, Vietnams Orange, White and Blue Rain Agents and Weapons of Mass Destruction (Atlanta: Spencer, 2004), 318. 32 Wilcox, Waiting, 8. 33 Wilcox, Waiting, 57. 34 Fred A. Wilcox, Scorched Earth: Legacies of Chemical Warfare in Vietnam (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011), x.

personally flew many of the Agent Orange spraying missions. The book contains detailed descriptions of the logistical operations including the storage, loading and deployment of chemical agents. Ranch Hand squadrons were the most highly decorated Air Force units in the war and modified C-123 planes sustained more enemy ground fire than any other air operation. The photograph to the left shows the extent of ecological devastation after defoliation spraying with Agent Orange.35 Two years before the publication of Cecils book, the Vietnam veterans class action suit against the chemical companies made headlines and was settled out of court. In spite of the growing number of claims, Cecil argued in his book that Ranch Hand personnel, who were far more exposed to the Agent Orange spray than ground troops, experienced no adverse effects and normal levels of dioxin.36 In one sense, these assertions are a rebuttal to claims of injury to AO exposure that formed the basis of the 1984 class action lawsuit. This book has yet another unique fit within the Agent Orange historiography that I have presented in this paper. It is an organizational history of the 12 th Air Commando Squadron a unit that Cecil clearly and rightfully has great pride in. It contains very detailed descriptions of Ranch Hand operations and the supporting technical operating procedures of the 12ths spraying missions. His organizational homage, however, may have precluded admission of any negative consequences derived from the 12ths wartime mission when, in fact, the opposite may have been true. A 1967 report by the Research ANd Development (RAND) Corporation, a non-profit Washington-based think tank, concluded that the crop destruction program resulted in no significant food shortages among Viet Cong units, harmed residents in the vicinity of crop destruction targets, alienated the rural South Vietnamese population from the government, aroused hostility toward the U.S. and its South Vietnamese allies, and might well have been counterproductive.37 As a direct participant, Cecil provides valuable insights into the actual operations but some of his conclusions run counter to the general historiography. Dioxin, Agent Orange: The Facts was written by Michael Gough in 1986. Dr. Gough is the former director of science and risk studies at the Cato Institute and is an expert on environmental policy and risk assessment.38 Goughs contribution to the historiography presents another contrast to the preceding three books. Goughs approach is to examine risk. His risk assessment regarding human and environmental exposure to herbicides in Vietnam is somewhat controversial and even blasphemous to
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Photo was taken from government site: http://www.history.army.mil/books/Vietnam/tactical/images-full/f23.jpg. Paul Frederick Cecil, Herbicidal Warfare: The Ranch Hand Project in Vietnam. (New York: Praeger, 1986), 171. Cecil was writing in 1986. Many veterans did not experience Agent Orange-related health problems until more than 30 years after exposure. There is no information about Cecils current health condition. 37 Buckingham, Operation Ranch Hand, 133-134 and H. Lindsey Arison, The Herbicidal Warfare Program in Vietnam, 1961-1971. http://www.utvet.com/agentorange2.html. 38 The Cato Institute is a Washington-base, libertarian think tank that has taken aggressive stances with regard to environmental issues.


many suffering veterans. In his preface, he places veterans of jungle warfare in Vietnam with chemical workers, farmers, forestry workers and people who live near areas of herbicide use. He argues that the claims and fears about exposure to dioxin have caused scientists and public health officials to carry out extensive and time-consuming studies of dioxin-exposed people. The results of those studies, he says, do not support the claims made about dioxin causing disease and birth defects.39 Regarding truth, Gough makes the distinction between a scientific fact and a legal fact. A scientific fact, he claims, is not accepted as proven until, [1] it has been verified by another scientist in another location and, [2] repeated tests fail to prove it false. A legal fact is proven if a preponderance of option acknowledges it to be true. 40 Gough points out that dioxin unintentionally has polluted and continues to pollute the environment everywhere. Unlike asbestos and the pesticides EDB, lindane and chlordane which entered commerce as good actors that became bad actors once it was found that their positive properties were outweighed by the discovery that they were a threat to human health, dioxin was never a good actor. It has always been a pollutant or a contaminant without any benefits whatsoever. Gough makes the point that not all dioxin is produced chemically as it was in Agent Orange; some of the dioxin in the environment is also produced by fires (wood, garbage, plastics, etc.).41 With many areas of Vietnams land surface saturated with dioxin, how safe are the food crops that grow there? Vietnam is currently the worlds second largest coffee exporter. In her book about the lingering contemporary environmental problems, Christina Schwenkel quotes a New York Times article in which Congressman Marion Berry suggests that Vietnamese catfish were not good enough for American diners because they came from a place contaminated by so much Agent Orange. 42 This raises the question of risk and the degree of contamination in the environment. Old dioxin that was produced as a by-product of trichlorophenol production has been banned since the late 1970s but new dioxin that originates from fires of various kinds is still a threat. Dioxin becomes firmly attached to particles in the soil. During the Vietnam War, troops who prepared the chemicals or who lived near the contaminated ground at Ranch Hand bases near Saigon and Da Nang or who were actively involved in spraying missions could inhale or ingest the dioxin mist. Gough states that the binding between dioxin and the soil is so tight that very little of the chemical can leach into water supplies. Fish that become contaminated are typically bottom-feeders such as carp and catfish. Currently, the Environmental Protection Agencys (EPA) safe limit for dioxin in water is impossible to understand; it is 13 parts per quintillion a quantity so small that it cannot be measured.43 Dioxin in the soil can be absorbed into the body through pores in the skin. Although the Department of Defense adamantly denied that ground troops were in sprayed areas within four days of spraying, the records in the HERBs database proved otherwise. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) concluded that ground troops within two kilometers and three days of a sprayed area represented exposure but military records of individual movements were so inadequate that it was impossible to identify conclusively who was exposed. Consequently, The Agent Orange Act passed by Congress in 1991 established a list of presumptive diseases that were the result of AO exposure and any veteran diagnosed with one of the presumptive
39 40

Michael Gough, Dioxin, Agent Orange: The Facts (New York: Plenum Press, 1986), 8. Gough, Dioxin, 25. From a personal perspective, I am reasonably familiar with two separate groups of people that I have known for over 40 years: my high school class of approximately 500 and my Army battalion from the Vietnam War of about 500. I have met and conversed with these two groups regularly for the past ten years. In doing so, it had become blatantly obvious that the Vietnam group had experienced significantly more instances of prostate cancer, diabetes, neuropathy and other diseases now presumed by the VA to have been derived from exposure to Agent Orange during the war. 41 Gough, Dioxin, 28. 42 Schwenkel, The American War in, 226n. 43 Gough, Dioxin, 138-141.


diseases who was on the ground in Vietnam is entitled to compensation and treatment at VA hospitals. Assuming Vietnam veterans cancer rates are the same as the national average, about 25 percent (700,000) of the 2,800,000 veterans who served in Vietnam will have some form of cancer during their lifetimes even if herbicides with dioxin had never been used in the war.44 Gough attributes the national attention focused on Vietnam veterans as having originated from one singular event: the Reutershan interview on the Today show documented in the Wilcox book, Waiting for an Army to Die, which was reviewed above.45 Reutershan was 28 years old when the cancer in his pelvis grew so wildly out of control that pathologists could not even determine the organ where it originated. Death from cancer at 28 is uncommon but not unknown. Gough reports that, statistically, Vietnam veterans do not contract diseases more frequently that comparably aged members of other population groups and that, in the year Reutershan died, two thousand other 25 to 29 year olds also died of cancer.46 Gough suggests that were it not for the notoriety generated by the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, the attention focused on dioxin might be negligible. He contrasts that with what he calls the biggest looming environmental problem: radon gas escaping from the earth and entering peoples basements causing 10,000 to 20,000 cancer deaths annually.47 His point is that without a foil, there is no fight; there is no cause. And, without someone to sue, there is nothing to gain. It should be noted that Gough was writing in 1986 still well before the dioxin latency period had expired for most people who were exposed to Agent Orange. The Extent and Patterns of usage of Agent Orange and other Herbicides in Vietnam is an article written in 2003 by Jeanne Spellman of Columbia Universitys Department of Health Policy Management and several of her research associates. Professor Spellman et al. produced a detailed and thoroughly researched report (her background and doctorate was in chemistry) which focused on two primary areas of inquiry: the extent of dioxin contamination and estimates of population exposure. This study found a distinct difference in the homogeneity of TCDD dioxin present in the various agents and, coincidentally, a contrast in exposure levels in the early years of the war. Prior to 1965, the year President Johnson dramatically escalated the U.S. war effort in response to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, ownership of all herbicides was transferred to the South Vietnamese government upon entering the country in accordance with the Farm Gate agreement. As part of the pact, Vietnamese workers handled all off-loading and storage. The C-123 aircraft used in spray missions were equipped with removable identification insignias. Crop destruction planes displayed South Vietnamese markings and required a Vietnamese crew member on board. Flight crews wore civilian clothing.48 Spellmans research team discovered significant differences from the NAS-1974 statistical data: 1.9 million
44 45

Gough, Dioxin, 64. Gough, Dioxin, 46. 46 Gough, Dioxin, 67. 47 Gough, Dioxin, 256. 48 Spellman, Extent and Patterns of Usage, 681. These missions were conducted under the codename Farm Gate in accordance with a pact set up by the Kennedy administration with the South Vietnamese government as part of the counter-insurgency strategy.


liters of Agent Purple were sprayed from 1962 to 1965 in relatively concentrated areas around U.S. Army Special Forces camps and the overall volume of herbicides sprayed was greater than originally thought. The above graphic is from the Spellman article and shows the quantity of different herbicides used in terms of liters-per-year. Orange and white (defoliants) and blue (used for crop destruction) were the only agents used after 1965 the year that the spraying of agents purple, pink and green had been discontinued. The Spellman study had a major impact on the historiography because her work in transforming the chronological HERBS file into target related groups and a thorough mining of the U.S. National Archives for USAF operations reports enabled the identification of 200 new missions that predate August 1965 and resulted in significant upward revisions of previous spray inventories.49 Additional data not contained in the NAS-1974 study was also found. The research revealed that TCDD concentrations varied widely in the mixtures. They found evidence of emergency dumps by pilots in which the chemicals were jettisoned in 30 seconds rather than the four to five minutes required for a normal run.50 Barrel residues, which averaged two liters after barrels had been emptied, caused inadvertent defoliation of trees and gardens in civilian areas near USAF bases that handled herbicides. The extent of contamination of people who used discarded barrels for other purposes was not known. References to this article are almost universally found in both popular and scholarly Agent Orange literature. Professor Spellmans clinical approach and exhaustive analysis provide a wealth of detailed information. Her conclusions that historical dioxin contamination levels must be revised upward and that large numbers of Vietnamese civilians and American troops were exposed to herbicidal agents reinforce the magnitude of the problem. The lack of a comprehensive epidemiological study on the environmental effects of herbicides is a source of frustration for historians, scientists, veterans and the Vietnam government. The Dioxin War: Truth and Lies about a Perfect Poison by Robert Allen was written in 2004. Any book with provocative a word such as lies in the title is normally indicative of a literary attack and Allens book is no exception. It is an attack on Dow Chemical, Monsanto and other manufacturers of Agent Orange. It fits in this papers bibliographical array because, like Rachel Carson in 1962, it accuses the chemical companies of knowingly poisoning the environment and the people in it for the purpose of making a profit. Allen is a journalist and activist who sides with environmental radicals. He was the copublisher and co-editor of Pobal an Dulra, a weekly newsletter specializing in eco-social empowerment and director with Seanchai Media, an information resource, publisher and agency for authors specializing in radical eco-social and social paradigms. The book is not an easy read because there is no consistent flow to it. Allen celebrates what he considers successes and he praises individuals who he considers environmental heroes. He quotes the elated paralegal Mark Guys email announcement with the subject line that read WE DID IT!!! in reference to the Supreme Courts decision in favor of Vietnam vets who claimed their due process rights were violated by the 1984 class action settlement. As of June 11, 2003, veterans were allowed to sue Agent Orange manufacturers. The basis of the Courts ruling was that exposed veterans who became afflicted with presumptive Agent Orange diseases after 1984 were excluded from compensation because the fund was depleted.

49 50

Spellman, Extent and Patterns of usage, 682. Spellman, Extent and Patterns of usage, 685. Spellman also found records of test runs using F-4E Phantom II jet fighters to spray chemicals and avoid anti-aircraft fire but after one jet was shot down, the strategy was abandoned.


The text of the email read Were in the news again. Our little office of 3 versus a mutual fund of chemical giants! (I would recommend divesting your Dow and Monsanto shares now, before its too late!)51 No moral judgments; no sympathy for diseased veterans. That short email revealed three curious motivations. They relished the notoriety of being in the news. The victory in a battle that could possible take down large American companies who produced numerous products for American consumers and employed tens of thousands of workers was celebrated as a good thing. They also see a profit opportunity by urging the recipients to sell or short Dow and Monsanto stock. Was this part even legal? Was it inside information? The email provides a disturbing insight to the motivations of environmentalists. The title of the epilogue to Allens book is Challenging Power and Money.52 It includes no mention of ecology or environmentalism. Did the antiwar protestors of the 1960s march against the U.S. government and the big chemical companies because they were concerned about the destruction of the environment or because they saw it as a way to cripple the American war effort? The authors presentation seems to favor the latter. Allens book is very useful for researchers looking for primary sources. There is an extensive timeline chronicling key events in the history of dioxin from 1872 to 2004. The growing list of products derived from chlorine chemistry all of which created dioxin as byproduct of the manufacturing process were innocently sold to consumers who were blissfully unaware of a potential price that was to be paid.53 Allen provides a wealth of statistical data, profiles key individuals at the chemical companies and tells the story of major environmental accidents involving dioxin. As the public becomes more aware of the pernicious characteristics and ubiquitous nature of dioxin, tragedies like warfare defoliation in Vietnam and the 1976 Seveso explosion that occurred in a TCP (2,4,5-trichlorophenol) reactor in the ICMESA chemical company in Meda, Italy may be avoided.54 Allen provides some interesting statistics on the relative measure of dioxin contamination. Seveso population: up to 56,000 parts per trillion Missouri general population: 5.9 ppt U.S. ground troops in Vietnam: 45 ppt Antipodean phenoxy herbicide sprayer: 131 ppt Operation Ranch Hand airborne sprayers in Vietnam: 618 ppt U.S. chlorophenol process workers: 3,400 ppt55 Every human being on the planet has absorbed some level of dioxin from inevitable exposure. The long battles that Vietnam veterans have fought with the VA over disability compensation have never included testing for dioxin. The test is not done in typical hospital laboratories and cost around $1,000 per individual. The Dixon War raises questions of liability - a major dimension of the Agent Orange historiography and one of the last to be investigated. The legal complexities of wartime contracts have prevented discovery and prosecution. Pending and future lawsuits and research by legal historians may eventually prove the negligence and liability criminal or otherwise - that chemical companies have continuously denied and to which the U.S. government has only reluctantly and indirectly acquiesced in the form of compensation to afflicted veterans. Vietnams environment and population still endure the legacy of chemical warfare forty years after the spraying stopped.
51 52

Robert Allen, The Dioxin War: Truth and Lies about a Perfect Poison (London: Pluto Press, 2004), 1. Allen, Dioxin War, 133. 53 Allen, Dioxin War, 9. 54 Allen, Dioxin War, 99. 55 Serum levels of TCDD measured by Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Atlanta, GA,


Family of Fallen Leaves: Stories of Agent Orange by Vietnamese Writers is a collection of stories edited by Charles Waugh and Huy Lien assembled in 2010. The imagery of the title appropriately ties the defoliation operations during the war to the fate of the land and the people who were exposed. The Vietnamese authors are mostly ex-soldiers. The theme of family is constant throughout all the writings. The effects of dioxin contamination are felt among all the family members even unrelated neighbors. In all the stories there is a sense of fatalistic resignation. There never seems to be anger or an interest in retaliation. For a nation of mostly Buddhists, there is a karma or sense of accepted destiny that runs through all the stories. Lines like Ive come to the conclusion that its hard for good people to meet good luck seem to be typical.56 There also seems to be a oneness with nature where even the trees and water have agency. In The Spirit Pond, the narrator cries and says Tears poured from my eyes into the earth.57 Each has a different author and most are written by men but all the stories have a similar, almost feminine quality evoking sympathy and empathy enabling the reader to almost achieve a state of vicarious solidarity with the writer. Because so many things have changed since the war, it would have been interesting to read accounts written during or right after the war before some of the environmental damage was healed by time and before doi moi when Vietnam abandoned the failed communist economic system in 1986 and switched to a market economy. The final chapter of the book contains a narrative about Le Cao Dai, a Vietnamese doctor who worked in the jungles with the Viet Minh in the resistance against the French and, later, with the Viet Cong against the Americans. He was in many sprayed areas and eventually died of cancers that he attributed to dioxin exposure. Many years after the war in Hanoi, he met James Zumwalt, the son of U.S. Navy Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr. and described the experience. ADM Zumwalts oldest son, Elmo Zumwalt III, commanded a Navy swift-boat that patrolled Vietnams rivers where they were constantly attacked from the cover of the dense jungle growth along the riverbanks. To protect the lives of his sailors (and his son) and with no knowledge the chemicals included the toxic dioxin molecules, ADM Zumwalt ordered the spraying of herbicides along waterways. In his book, My Father, My Son, the younger Zumwalt, who died of cancer at age 42 and sired a son with severe learning disabilities, wrote I believe Agent Orange is responsible for my cancers, for Russells (his sons) learning disorder, and for illnesses suffered by many Vietnam veterans.58 James Zumwalt told Dr. Le Cao Dai that his father, the Admiral, acknowledged that the most fatal mistake in his life was to command the spraying of toxic herbicides in South Vietnam.59 Waughs metaphorical Fallen Leaves contributes to the Agent Orange historiography by documenting the suffering of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians exposed to the sprayed chemicals. Their years of sad, passive acceptance contrast sharply with the outrage, frustration and repeated demands of American veterans whose battles with their own government and the VA were described in Wilcoxs Waiting for an Army to Die.


Vo Thi Hao, The Blood of Leaves, in Family of Fallen Leaves, Charles Waugh and Huy Kien eds.(Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2010). 138. 57 Nguyen Thi Ngoc Ha, The Spirit Pond, in Fallen Leaves, 116. 58 Quoted in Waugh and Huy, Fallen Leaves, 169. 59 Waugh and Huy, Fallen Leaves, 170. ADM Zumwalt died in 2000 of a rare form of lung cancer called mesothelioma which is usually associated with exposure to asbestos, a material commonly used in Navy ships before its hazards became known.


The Invention of Ecocide: Agent Orange, Vietnam, and the Scientists Who Changed the Way We Think about the Environment was written in 2011 by David Zierler, a historian employed by the U.S. Department of State. This book may be the most scholarly effort to date within the heretofore limited historiography of the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. It is not only thoroughly researched with an extensive list of primary sources but it also places the herbicide war in Vietnam within the revolutionary context of trying to win a war through high-technological solutions designed to control the physical environment. Conceptually it features reliance on the postmodern approach of using technology to replace labor. The United States, argues Zierler, tried to eliminate Viet Cong insurgents using what was essentially the same pest and weed control tactics used by farmers. The core of the book, traces the inquiry, research and subsequent conclusions and recommendations of a group of academic scientists, including Arthur W. Galston of Yale, who, in the mid-1960s, were concerned about the use of the chemical 2,4,5-T which had been proven to be mutagenic and possibly carcinogenic in lab rats. Observing deliberate environmental destruction in Vietnam, they imagined more ecological dystopias and human health epidemics created by future wars fought with more sophisticated chemical weapons and advanced methods of environmental warfare.60 By the 1960s, the Pentagons demand for Agent Orange exceeded production capacity. Exacerbating the toxicity problem, Dow, Monsanto and the others increased production by cooking 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T at higher than normal temperatures thereby increasing the amount of dioxin produced as a byproduct.61 Zierler makes effective use of illustrations throughout his book. He included the above image, taken from the June 1969 edition of the Science and Social Responsibility Bulletin to demonstrate contemporary perceptions of the extent of the spraying. The cartoon suggests that South Vietnam had been dunked in Agent Orange.62 Tying Agent Orange to the antiwar protest movement, Zierler argues that with the deliberate ecological destruction that clearly caused human suffering, Operation Ranch Hand actually united antiwar activists in the West with communists in Vietnam without even having to reference the ideological battle.63 CBW (the U.S. Armys acronym for Chemical and Biological Warfare) may have provided the common ground for anti-American sentiment among people of all nations and backgrounds thereby contributing to the communist victory in uniting North and South Vietnam. The culpability of the chemical companies has been a major question throughout the Agent Orange controversy. The current consensus among historians seems to be that Dow, Monsanto and the rest had sold herbicides to farmers for years with excellent results and no known health risks. When the strength

David Zierler, The Invention of Ecocide: Agent Orange, Vietnam, and the Scientists Who Changed the Way We Think about the Environment (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011), 16-17. 61 Zierler, Invention of Ecocide, 8. 62 Zierler, Invention of Ecocide, 109. 63 Zierler, Invention of Ecocide, 23.


of the chemical mixtures were dramatically increase to create a defoliation product for which the U.S. military had a huge demand, little, if any, initial testing was done by either the manufacturers or the U.S. government for possible negative effects. Shocking results of independent testing were finally released in the late 1960s in an article in the New Republic by William Haseltine, a graduate student at Harvard. Zierler argued that in 1966 Bionetics Research Laboratories, under a private government contract, had tested various dosage levels of 2,4,5-T on female lab mice and found a high correlation to birth defects in offspring. Massive doses produced stillborn or mutated babies in 100 percent of females. 64 Initially, according to Zierler, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the surgeon general, the National Academy of Sciences and government liaison officials from Dow and other chemical companies all agreed to take no action. Zierler asserts that this initial reaction represented a cover-up. More tests, more articles and increased media attention eventually resulted in the Nixon administration terminating Operation Ranch Hand after over nine years of spraying dioxin-contaminated herbicides over 12 percent of the total area of South Vietnam. Millions of civilians and combat troops on both sides were exposed to highly toxic dioxin either by direct spraying or through contact with the soil and the water. Zierler also makes his contribution to intellectual history. Recognizing Rachel Carsons Silent Spring as having launched the modern environmentalism movement in 1962, he attempts to explain this intellectual transformation throughout the latter half of the twentieth century by expanding on one of Carsons central points: in the postwar era humans had achieved the technology to change ecological environments. The ease of destroying massive forests was shocking to witness. Although only 168 pages of text, Zierlers book has copious notes and an extensive bibliography. It is both factually detailed and intellectually argumentative. It provides a complete contextual setting, a chronological history of the development and employment of Agent Orange and insights into the motivations and investigations of a group of scientists who directly influenced international restrictions on the use of ecocide in warfare. More than any other book in the historiography, The Invention of Ecocide combines factual presentations as well as the social, legal and environmental arguments of most of the major contributions in the field in one comprehensive and detailed history. Conclusion In the introduction to this paper, several critical questions were posed to frame the objective of my inquiry of the Agent Orange historiography. Buckinghams reference to the 1967 RAND Corporation report clearly makes the case that efforts to deny a food source to the Viet Cong was not effective and may well have alienated the civilian population. The forced urbanization component of the strategy resulted in the rapid growth of poor areas in the South Vietnams major cities. On the other side of that argument, the demand by field commanders, including ADM Zumwalt, for defoliation unquestionably indicates the success of Ranch Hand spraying with regard to securing remote combat bases. Zierler also describes academic Dr. Bert Pfeiffer, a staunch opponent of U.S. chemical operations in Vietnam and an antiwar activist who testified at the 1970 Detroit Winter Soldier Investigation sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, who admitted that spraying along the rivers significantly enhanced his sense of security during his research visit in 1969. Ranch Hand was therefore, a success from military tactics perspective but the evidence presented in the historiographical literature would suggest that from a cultural and environmental perspective, it was a disaster.


Zierler, The Invention of Ecocide, 123.


The questions of legality and liability for the use of chemical weapons in Vietnam are still unresolved and, in many ways, it is the centerpiece in the argument of those who would question the legality of the entire war. The herbicide controversy figured prominently and even centrally in the litany of cited reasons for why and how the American war amounted to a criminal enterprise.65 In a statement of concession to the question of legality, in April 1975 as the North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon, President Ford formally renounced first use of herbicides by the United States in future wars. As long as this policy stands, no operation like Ranch Hand could happen again.66 Only after relentless pressure from Vietnam veterans suffering from a statistical anomaly of cancerous diseases, the United States government - through the VA acknowledged an obligation to provide disability compensation and medical treatment to all members of its army who may have been unsuspectingly exposed to dioxin poisoning while fighting for their country including those who fortuitously escaped dioxin contamination but contracted the associated diseases nonetheless. Liability has never been established. Wilcox and others still deplore that Vietnam veterans are dying at a rapid rate, and most of them will not live to see should this ever happen the chemical companies concede that they manufactured and sold Agent Orange to the military, fully aware that this defoliant was contaminated with TCDD-dioxin and fully cognizant of a process by which the dioxin levels in herbicides might have been greatly reduced.67 Waiting for an Army to Die made a dramatic case for veterans and helped contribute to the 1984 settlement with the chemical companies and the subsequent acceptance by the VA of presumptive diseases directly related to exposure to herbicides. In a rare public statement by a government official, U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays acknowledged that Yes, there is a story about Agent Orange, and we knew that it harmed our troops and we knew how long it was to get the medical community to accept that, the military to accept it, the VA to accept it.68 It is somewhat ironic that the same year, 1962, in which Rachel Carsons Silent Spring so effectively influenced public awareness of the extent of chemical intrusion into the ecosystem was the same year that the U.S. military launched its massive herbicide assault on the South Vietnamese environment. The state of the field of historical inquiry into the use of chemicals in Vietnam and warfare in general has developed rapidly in recent years because more information has become available and a because of a growing awareness of the ecological consequences of human actions that alter the environment intentionally or otherwise. Onboard the incinerator ship M/T Vulcanus in an EPA-designated Pacific Ocean burn zone, the last of the herbicide orange once destined for the jungles of Vietnam burned on September 3, 1977.69

65 66

Zierler, The Invention of Ecocide, 23. Buckingham, Ranch Hand, iv. 67 Fred A. Wilcox, Scorched Earth: Legacies of Chemical Warfare in Vietnam (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011), x. 68 This statement was made by Christopher Shays, a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Connecticuts 4 th district, during an October 1997 Public Broadcasting System (PBS) interview. Shays chaired the House Subcommittee on Government Oversight which issued a critical report calling the investigations by the Defense and Veterans Affairs Departments irreparably flawed. The entire interview may be viewed at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/syndrome/interviews/shays1.html. 69 H. Lindsey Arison, The Herbicidal Warfare Program in Vietnam, 1961-1971. http://www.utvet.com/agentorange2.html. For technical data filed by D. Ackerman from the burn site for TRW, Inc., Redondo Beach, CA submitted April, 1978 as report number EPA-600/2-78-086 see http://www.nal.usda.gov/speccoll/findaids/agentorange/text/03967.pdf.


Books Allen, Robert. The Dioxin War: Truth and Lies about a Perfect Poison. London, Pluto, 2004. Cecil, Paul Frederick. Herbicidal Warfare: The Ranch Hand Project in Vietnam. New York: Praeger, 1986. Closmann, Charles E. War and the Environment: Military Destruction in the Modern Age. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2009. Crummett, Warren. Decades of Dioxin: Limelight on a Molecule. Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2002. Gough, Michael. Dioxin, Agent Orange: The Facts. New York: Plenum Press, 1986. Griffiths, Philip Jones. Agent Orange: Collateral Damage in Viet Nam. London: Trolley, 2003. McNeill, J.R. Environmental Histories of the Cold War. Washington, DC: German Historical Institute, 2010. Neilands, J.B. Harvest of Death: Chemical Warfare in Vietnam and Cambodia. New York: Free Press, 1972. Schuck, Peter H. Agent Orange on Trial: Mass Toxic Disasters in the Courts. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1987. Schwenkel, Christina. The American War in Contemporary Vietnam: Transnational Remembrance and Representation. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009. Waugh, Charles and Huy Lien, eds. Family of Fallen Leaves: Stories of Agent Orange by Vietnamese Writers. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010. Weisberg, Barry. Ecocide in Indochina: The Ecology of War. San Francisco: Canfield press, 1970. Wilcox, Fred A. Scorched Earth: Legacies of Chemical Warfare in Vietnam. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011. Wilcox, Fred A. Waiting for an Army to Die: The Tragedy of Agent Orange. New York: Seven Stories Press, 1989. Zierler, David. The Invention of Ecocide: Agent Orange, Vietnam, and the Scientists Who Changed the Way We Think about the Environment. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011. Journal Articles

Adelman, Kenneth. Yellow Rain: Chemical and Biological Warfare. World Affairs Vol. 144, No. 3 (Winter 1981/82): 268-271. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20671905. Catton, Philip E. Counter-Insurgency and Nation Building: The Strategic Hamlet Programme in South Vietnam, 1961-1963. The International History Review Vol. 21, No. 4 (December 1999): 918-940. Juda, Lawrence. Negotiating a Treaty on Environmental Modification Warfare: The Convention on Environmental Warfare and its Impact Upon Arms Control Negotiations. International Organization Vol. 32, No. 4 (Autumn, 1978): 975-991. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2706184. Lewis, James G. James G. Lewis on Smokey Bear in Vietnam, Environmental History, Vol. 11, No. 3 (July, 2006), pp. 598-603. Neilands, J.B. Vietnam: Progress of the Chemical War. Asian Survey Vol. 10, No. 3 (March, 1970): 209-229. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2642575. Palmer, Michael G. The Case of Agent Orange. Contemporary Southeast Asia Vol. 29 No. 1 (April 2007): 172-195. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25798819. Spellman, Jean, et al. The Extent and Patterns of Usage of Agent Orange and Other Herbicides in Vietnam Nature Vol. 422 (17 April 2003): 681-687. Video Agent Orange Vietnam. Journeyman Pictures, 2008. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJxb7CY13uc